The local Methodist circuit Facebook page had an article by Sam Eaton entitled “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church HaveDropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” shared on it yesterday. Just after I read it I picked up another article, this time on the BBC, by Lindsey Baker entitled “Whatever happened toGeneration X?” This latter piece is a book review for Tiffanie Darke’s, new offering “Now We Are 40: Whatever Happened to Generation X?” (a book I definitely want to get hold of). I came across these as I was revisiting Jonny Baker’s 2010 text, “Curating Worship”. In my mind there was a thread running through my mind as I read all of these things and that’s what I want to explore, in a rough form here.
The “Whatever happened to Generation X?” article is looking at that generation Douglas Coupland was talking about in his 1991 classic. It’s talking about my generation, the generation which theorists such as Liz Clutterbuck and Monica Janowski identified as the first “missing generation”. We’re the generation to whom those talking in “curating worship” belong and who their alt-worship initiatives were aimed at.
Within Baker’s there was a quote which really struck and resonated with me. She said:
“In Darke’s opinion, Generation Xers should be on a mission to provide a “bridge” between millennials and boomers, especially now that it has largely gone from being anti-establishment to being part of it. Generation X can play a healing role and help promote tolerance, is Darke’s message. “We all need to remember what was important in the pre-digital world, and before the toxic smartphone culture.”
As I read and reflected on Curating Worship I had to smile to myself. What was being described as being anti-establishment in that book has indeed largely become part of the establishment within the church. Jonny Baker has his key role with CMS and Michael Volland (not mentioned in the book but part of that whole group is now principal at Ridley). Me, I was somebody on the edge of that whole scene, not involved directly but picking up much of what was going on through Greenbelt and the web. These days I’m a chaplain who’s now reflecting on how in my job I use the skills I learnt back then from this whole genre. I'm also theologically working on how I mix that with what I’ve learnt from chaplaincy studies, contextual theology and the Methodist Church to produce a model of chaplaincy which enables me to engage with mission in a post-Christian culture.
As I read the material on the millennials leaving the church I realise that those of us who are Gen X and have now been absorbed to differing extents into the establishment do have an important role. We have something important to offer, in terms of working as a bridge particularly between people inside and outside the church. We are a generation who can talk two languages and interpret between them. We can listen with empathy and act as mentors. In spaces where the millennials don't yet have a voice we can act as the advocates to have them given a space at the table where they can then heard themselves.